AUGUSTA – A half-hour phone call the recently jailed Shawna Gatto placed to her fiancé, Stephen Hood, about a week after 4-year-old Kendall Chick died revealed a couple struggling to understand how it could have happened.

The phone call was played in its entirety Wednesday during day three of the trial of Gatto, who is charged with depraved indifference murder in connection with the December 2017 death of Hood’s granddaughter.

“We are not supposed to be doing this right now. I thought we were a happy home, with happy children,” Hood said.

“I know. Do you think this is easy for me,” Gatto replied.

“No, I think this is hell for you.”

“Then why are you getting mad at me?”

“I don’t know what to say,” Hood said, clearly frustrated.

“What do you mean?”

“We’re not getting any answers.”

“I know that,” Gatto said, trying to stay calm.

“I want to know what killed my little girl.”

“Yes I know that.”

Over and over again, Hood returned to wanting answers about how Chick could have died. He questioned whether Gatto could have abused the girl without him knowing.

Kendall Chick died with multiple injuries.

“Had I known about it, I sure as (expletive) would have put a stop to it. If there was any abuse going on in this house,” he said.

“Oh my god, is that what you think,” Gatto replied.

“I don’t know what to think,” he said.

Later, in his testimony, Hood also was asked to explain a series of text messages two days before Chick’s death in which he posed a question to Gatto. “I don’t know what to do, get rid of her? How?’ he wrote. “And if we did that, we’d have to carry the guilt.”

Hood said in court that he meant returning Chick to Department of Health and Human Services custody because they couldn’t care for her.

Hood also disclosed that both he and Gatto had been in recovery for opioid use disorder, a fact that had not been made public. Chick’s biological mother and father, who is Hood’s son, also struggled with addiction, which is why the girl was placed with Hood and Gatto.

Stephen Hood believed that Shawna Gatto might have been responsible for the death of his granddaughter, 4-year-old Kendall Chick. Hood testified in court in Augusta on Wednesday. Press Herald photo by Eric Russell

Before Hood’s testimony Wednesday afternoon, the morning was filled with testimony about various physical evidence found inside the Wiscasset home where Chick died. Two detectives and two crime lab employees were called to provide more details about several items in the home – a pillow, sheets, towels – that tested positive for blood and matched Chick’s DNA. Additionally, they detailed blood stains found on walls inside the home that also matched the girl.

Chick’s death, followed closely by the death of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy, has led to a sustained examination of Maine’s child protection system and widespread reforms that are ongoing.

While the first two days of Gatto’s trial focused on interviews between the defendant and police after Chick died, as well as detailed testimony about the girl’s autopsy and various injuries, Wednesday shifted to physical evidence.

Maine State Police Sgt. Jason Richards testified about finding signs of blood in the bathtub, where Chick reportedly was placed just before she fell unconscious, and also on the wall and floor in the bathroom. He further detailed blood stains found on bedding items on the girl’s bed. Finally, he said a head-sized defect in the drywall inside the girl’s bedroom showed blood stains and an embedded hair that match Chick’s DNA.

During cross-examination, Gatto’s attorney, Jeremy Pratt, asked Richards whether he could tell the age of the blood or how it got there. Richards said, “No.”

Richards’ testimony was followed by Melissa Robitaille, a forensic chemist, and Kathy MacMillan, a DNA expert. Each said that their work concluded that nearly all of the blood stains found in the home matched Chick.

The state also called Bonnie Lane to testify. Lane was an employee at The Family Dollar store in Wiscasset, where Gatto often shopped. Lane talked about a handful of interactions she had with Gatto and Hood, as well as Chick. Lane said she noticed bruises on Chick on several occasions. When she asked, Gatto said the girl fell out of bed.

During a later visit, Lane talked to Gatto about getting some state help for Chick.

“She told me Kendall had been dropped off there and (the state) never really came back to check on her,” Lane said.

Lane, who has worked in health care and is a mandated reporter of suspected child abuse or neglect, wanted to notify the state but didn’t know Gatto’s name. It wasn’t until Chick died and Gatto was arrested that she made the connection.

Amid all the testimony Wednesday, the most compelling piece was the phone call between Hood and Gatto.

At one point in the call, Gatto feared that Hood was “turning on” her.

“It looks like they have you dead to rights,” he told her, adding. “There is no physical way that with one hand I could split her pancreas.” That was an apparent reference to a spanking he had given her earlier.

“I did not …” Gatto replied.

“Something happened,” Hood said before she could finish.

“No it did not. I swear on my life.”

“Something obviously had to have happened … it doesn’t add up.”

“I didn’t hit her,” Gatto said.

Phone calls made from jail are typically monitored and recorded, except in certain cases such as when an inmate is talking to an attorney or a doctor. Gatto and Hood knew their conversations were being recorded.

Following the replay of the phone call, Assistant Attorney General John Alsop, one of two prosecutors in the case, questioned Hood. He asked if he ever saw her fall. He said yes.

“I don’t know why, she didn’t seem to protect her head,” Hood said.

Alsop asked Hood if he ever spanked Chick.

“Once,” he said.

He said he used a belt to give the girl “three cracks.”

“I felt like crap and I (texted) Shawna to tell her I’m never doing that again,” Hood said. “I didn’t want her to be afraid of me.”

Pratt, Gatto’s attorney, has not yet mounted his defense and didn’t even deliver an opening statement. In cross-examination of state witnesses, Pratt has raised questions about the timing of the child’s injuries, whether they could have been accidental and whether anyone other than Gatto could have cause the injuries.

Hood was asked by Alsop whether he ever saw Chick fall or run into the door. He said mostly he just heard about it from Gatto.

Hood said at one point, weeks before Chick’s death, both he and Gatto talked about bringing her to the emergency room after she suffered a head injury, which Gatto said was from fall. Hood said they should go.

“(Shawna) said she’s fine. She’s going to be fine,” Hood said.

Following several minutes of questions, including about text messages that showed both Hood and Gatto were growing frustrated with Chick, the prosecutor then played a portion of another phone call Gatto placed to Hood on Dec. 28, 2017.

Hood explains that he has been asked to meet with Maine State Police Detective Joshua Birmingham, who had some follow-up questions.

“Don’t do it … do you hear me,” Gatto told him.

“I’m kind of (screwed) if I don’t,” he said.

Gatto told him to call her lawyer instead.

“It’s starting to look like they want me in there with you,” Hood told her.

Wednesday ended before Hood could be cross-examined by Gatto’s attorney. The trial will resume on Friday.

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